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Leinster Rugby vs Harlequins FC
European Rugby Champions Cup Pool 2 Round 4
Aviva Stadium, Dublin,
Saturday, 13th December 2014, 19:45

Television: Live - BT Sports

Last week's pessimism was unfortunately proved correct as Leinster showed the "ugly winning rugby" they were so proud of last week exposed as "ugly losing rugby" when played against a team of any quality. The most annoying thing is that while Harlequins were undoubtedly deserved winners, they still didn't have to really play that well to win. Several times they were in good positions but blew chances through poor handling. They left behind five fairly handy points from kicks at goal as well and even at the end, they were happy to kick the ball out rather than try for another three points to deny Leinster a losing bonus point.

Leinster were lucky to even leave with a bonus point in truth. They were well beaten up front in all areas and their efforts to score out wide were frankly embarrassing. So that's three tries in three pool games, and considering this pool is far from the hardest in the competition, it's a fairly poor (and accurate) reflection on where Leinster are as a team. There was an interesting comment from Shane Horgan during the week about Leinster's passing. He said that Matt O'Connor is now instructing players to pass to the inside shoulder instead of passing in front of the man to run onto. Now this may not be true, though you suspect Horgan still has decent sources in the camp, but if it is, it explains a lot. It would certainly go a long way to explain how O'Connor took over what was commonly regarded as one of the best passing teams in Europe and turned them into one of the worst.

O'Connor has shuffled the deck chairs with his selection for tomorrow evening. Eoin Reddan has paid for his poor performance last week by being dropped to the bench with Isaac Boss starting instead. In fairness, this is how things work in the tough world of rugby, unless your name is Jimmy of course. In the other change to the backline Luke Fitzgerald moves into the outside centre with Zane Kirchner coming in on the wing. There are two changes to the pack with the fit-again Dominic Ryan coming into the back row in place of Jordi Murphy. Kane Douglas comes in for Mike McCarthy in the second row and hopefully he'll show a bit more discipline this week.

Harlequins have made two changes to the side that started last week, both injury-enforced. Tim Swiel comes in for Nick Evans at ten while Jack Clifford replaces England skipper Chris Robshaw in the back row. Evans and especially Robshaw are huge losses and their replacements are quite inexperienced. However there's good news for them in that they are able to name Joe Marler at captain again and he and the rest of their front row will be targeting the Leinster scrum for another beasting.

Even with their weakened team, Harlequins will be a dangerous prospect. With last week's win in the bag, they effectively have a free shot this week. They certainly won't have any fear of Leinster, even at the Aviva, having seen how easy it was to shut down their attack last week.

For Leinster it's win or bust. The only hope is that the players react to the desperation by having the courage to play some rugby again and not just go for the least risky option. If we see the real Leinster tomorrow evening, they could well win comfortably. But if it's the same gameplan we've seen for most of this season, it will be another arm wrestle/kicking contest that could go either way.

Let's just hope the real Leinster show up tomorrow. The fans have missed them.

Team Lineups

Leinster Rugby
Harlequins FC
Teams Rob Kearney 15 Mike Brown
Zane Kirchner 14 Marland Yarde
Luke Fitzgerald 13 Matt Hopper
Ian Madigan 12 George Lowe
Darragh Fanning 11 Aseli Tikoirotuma
Jimmy Gopperth 10 Tim Swiel
Isaac Boss 9 Danny Care

Jack McGrath 1 Joe Marler (C)
Sean Cronin 2 Dave Ward
Mike Ross 3 Will Collier
Devin Toner 4 Charlie Matthews
Kane Douglas 5 George Robson
Rhys Ruddock6 Luke Wallace
Dominic Ryan 7 Jack Clifford
Jamie Heaslip (C) 8 Nick Easter

Replacements Bryan Byrne 16 Joe Gray
Michael Bent 17 Mark Lambert
Tadhg Furlong 18 Kyle Sinckler
Mike McCarthy 19 Sam Twomey
Jack Conan 20
Joe Trayfoot
Eoin Reddan21 Karl Dickson
Noel Reid 22 Tom Casson
Mick McGrath 23 Ross Chisholm

Not Considered
due to Injury
Sean O'Brien,
Cian Healy,
Martin Moore,
Edward Byrne,
Ben Te'o,
Shane Jennings,
Richardt Strauss,
Kevin McLaughlin,
Fergus McFadden,
Dave Kearney,
Gordon D'Arcy

Chris Robshaw,
Nick Evans
Officials Referee: Romain Poite (France),
Assistant Referees: Christophe Berdos, Stephane Boyer (both France),
Fourth Official: Dermot Blake (Ireland),
Citing Commissioner: Stefano Marrama (Italy),
TMO: Eric Gonthier (France)

by Jim O'Connor, © 2014-12-12